Claire (Jennifer Aniston) lives with chronic pain, and becomes fascinated with the suicide of a young woman in her support group. As Claire focuses on Nina’s (Anna Kendrick) death and family, she is still grappling with her own tragic past, which led her to the painful place she has found herself.
It seems like a long time since Jennifer Aniston has played a dramatic role, but it was only last year that she took on a role in the crime drama Life of Crime. Aniston is known for her impeccable comic timing, but with Cake, she reminds us that she is a versatile and talented actress.
As Claire, Jennifer Aniston takes on the unglamorous role of an angry, heartbroken woman who lives with pain every minute of her life. Aniston never labours the point, or allows her character to wallow in self pity, instead allowing her character’s past to matter less than the moment she is living in. The story is revealed – and it is nothing too shocking – but Aniston makes Claire a gripping character, one it is difficult to hate even through her layers of anger and unpleasantness. Although she suffers, it is clear from Aniston’s performance that Claire is a strong woman and although she doesn’t always get it right, she is trying her best to carry on.
Anna Kendrick plays Nina, but instead of making her a blithe and forgiving spirit, Kendrick allows Nina to feel real – even if she isn’t – with real responses and emotions. The rest of the cast is made up of Felicity Huffman, William H Macy and Adriana Barraza, who are all on magnificent form.
The story, written by Patrick Tobin, is a study of a character dealing with grief, guilt, anger, pain and addiction. There is little doubt that Claire is the centre of the story, but never are exposition or cutesy revelations allowed to rule the day. It would have been easy for the film to devolve into predictable saccharine sweetness, but it easily steers clear of such things, although there are some sequences that the film could have done without.
Director Daniel Barnz has coaxed powerful performances from all of his actors, particularly Aniston, whose nuanced performance as a woman who desperately needs people but can’t help but drive them away feels authentic and sincere. There are times, however, when the pacing of the film suffers from trying to bring in too many strings, but since Cake does not concern itself with tying everything into a neat little bow, this is swiftly resolved.
In all, Cake is anchored by a powerful performance from Jennifer Aniston, who is backed up by a wonderful supporting cast. The story is simple, but the characters so believable that some bad storytelling decisions and messy pacing almost don’t matter. Almost. Still, this is the best Aniston has been in a long time, and for her to be ignored at the Oscars is a travesty.